Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wildlife Spotting on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia is a treasure trove of wildlife. Separated from the rest of the continent for about 10,000 years, its natural wildlife has thrived without humans or other pests and predators that have struck on the mainland. Over the centuries, some animals have evolved into distinct sub-species, earning this place the nickname "The Galapagos of Australia." More than a third of the island is protected parkland, ensuring that it will remain a haven for the native plants and animals.


Visiting Australia for the first time, the entire family was super eager to see kangaroos. However, we probably weren't as excited as explorer Matthew Flinder who gave the island its name. Having been at sea for many months, he and his shipmates were tired of their diet of salted meat and longed for fresh food. Landing on the island in 1802, they came across a plentiful population of Western Grey kangaroos, some of which the men promptly clobbered and consumed.

Kangaroos hopping across the road 

The species on the island differs from the Western Grey Kangaroos on the mainland by being shorter, darker, and with longer fur. Not surprisingly, kangaroos are all over Kangaroo Island. Like hopping across the road everywhere. We were cautioned to drive carefully at night, or perhaps just avoid driving altogether after nightfall, to avoid hitting them. If you want to pet some tame ones, make a stop at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park.

Feeding kangaroos at the wildlife park in Parndana.


Cute, adorable wallabies — the smaller cousin of the kangaroo — are also easy to find. Kangaroo Island is home to the largest remaining natural population of Tammar wallabies in Australia. They measure 52-68 cm (20-27 inches) tall and are active at dawn and dusk. A group liked to hang out near our cabin on Hanson Bay. They are quite timid, so we had to make sure we stayed still and quiet while observing them.

Tammar wallaby hiding in the scrubby undergrowth


Another iconic Australian animal, the koala, also calls Kangaroo Island its home. However, they are not native to the area. To combat the declining population on the mainland, 18 koalas were released in Flinders Chase National Park in the 1920s, and the population has flourished over the years. 

One of the best places to spot them is at the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Koala Walk. The animals are free to roam around the large sanctuary which is encircled by a fence to protect the koalas from feral cats. A sign in the main shop indicated that 23 koalas had been spotted the day we were there, although we were only able to find 9 while staring at treetops.

Sleeping koala at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Australian Sea Lions

Nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century, the worldwide population has rebounded to about 14,000 Australian sea lions. 85% call South Australia their home with the third largest colony located at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island. A visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park starts at the Visitors Centre and continues onto a 800 meter boardwalk with interpretive signs that takes you over the sand dunes and out to the sea lion colony. Access to the beach itself is by guided tour only. We took the guided tour, and I found it fascinating. The guide pointed out various sea lions and told us a little about each individual. 

Australion sea lions at Seal Bay Conservation Park

A sea lion pup roamed the beach back and forth searching for its mother. Female sea lions typically head out to the continental shelf to feed, a journey which takes 3 days out and back. The guide said the reunions are always joyous both because the pup is happy to see its mum and it's eager to nurse by that time. Sometimes, the mom doesn't return, and entanglement with commercial fishing nets is the biggest culprit. Another visitor asked what happens to the orphaned pup. Sadly, none of the other mama sea lions adopts it. The Conservation Park  has a "let nature take its course" policy and does not try to rescue the pup. The amount of money required to raise a pup who will never learn to feed itself and then sustain it through adulthood is cost prohibitive. The guide said the park uses what little money it has to lobby against commercial net fishing and promote research and other conservation efforts.

New Zealand Fur Seals

Admiral Arch in Flinders Chase National Park is one of the best places on Kangaroo Island to find New Zealand fur seals. They are smaller than the Australian sea lion and were also almost hunted to extinction. We knew to stay at least 30 meters away from these animals as they can be aggressive if they feel threatened, but the boardwalk kept us a safe distance away while still allowing us plenty of opportunity to observe the large colony. We probably spotted more than 100 of them.

New Zealand fur seals at Admirals Arch, Flinders Chase National Park

A closer look at the New Zealand fur seals resting on the rocks.


Unfortunately, I did not spot any platypus when we were in Australia, not even on a showing of Phineas and Ferb. We simply did not have the time (or the self control) to stand there quietly and wait for these shy creatures to emerge from their watery burrows. The Rocky River lookouts along the Platypus Waterholes Walk just outside the cafe at the Flinders Chase Visitors Centre are supposed to be one of the best places to spot them. Not native to the island, they were released in the park in the 1920s and are currently the only wild platypus population in South Australia. 


Reading about another blogger's experience of seeing a wild penguin emerge from the water and walk up to her on the beach is one of the main reasons that I was drawn to visiting Kangaroo Island. Although I spent a few twilights on the lookout at Hanson Bay, I never encountered one. It turns out that the penguin population has greatly decreased over the last 5 years. The New Zealand fur seals that thrive in the area feed on the adult penguins as they swim ashore to feed their chicks, and the orphaned chicks end up dying, too. The Penneshaw Penguin Centre near the SeaLink Ferry still conducts night time tours to introduce visitors to the few wild Little Penguins left on Kangaroo Island, but TripAdvisor reviews indicate that a sighting is not guaranteed. 

Warning sign on the beach by the SeaLink Ferry in Penneshaw

Captive Animals

Sometimes, your best chance of seeing an animal is when it's not roaming around in the wild. The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has an assortment of Australian birds, reptiles and mammals. Visitors can have an upclose experience with many of them. Cuddle a koala, snuggle a snake, or feed a kangaroo. The park focuses on conservation and often takes care of young animals who have been orphaned, injured or abandoned.

Echidna at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park near Parndana


Australian sea lions - Seal Bay Conservation Park

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What animal would you be most excited to see?

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  1. We really wanted to visit Kangaroo Island on our recent trip around Australia, however we had our dog with us so couldn't go. Friends we met on the road absolutely raved about how beautiful it was there so it is one of the few regrets we had on our trip. Maybe next time! Great shots!

  2. I think I might've squealed and awww'd at least 10 times through this post. So much cuteness and awesomeness. What a cool experience, I'm jealous in the best way possible haha!

  3. This is awesome! We love trying to spot wildlife wherever we go and Kangaroo Island seems like our kind of place! Not sure which animal we'd be most excited to see... that's a tough one! We love surprises along the way so anything that pops up unexpectedly!

  4. So cool! You really spotted a lot of fascinating creatures! I would love to see a koala in its natural habitat!

  5. I have to admit, I would have been bummed about the penguins. We went to a penguin sanctuary in New Zealand, and it was definitely a highlight of the trip!!

  6. Ahhhhh this blog post is full of so much cuteness I can barely handle it! I would love to see any of these creatures in their natural habitat. Stunning!

  7. What a fascinating collection of wildlife on Kangaroo Island. I love the photo of the koala asleep in the tree.

  8. I'm not sure when you went to Kangaroo Island. We were there in March. As I understand it there are either no more penguins on the island or almost none. They population has been decimated by the New Zealand fur seals (native to Australia), which are their natural predators. I'm fairly sure that both the penguin centres you mention have now closed. If you want to see penguins in Australia by far the best place to see them is Phillip Island or if you are prepared to really go out of your way, King Island.

    1. Our trip was actually a couple years ago. That's really too bad about the penguin population. I updated my post to reflect the current situation. The Kingscote Centre closed less than a year after we visited, and it seems like Penneshaw's centre is not an assured sighting either. I want to see the Penguin Parade on Philip Island, but we didn't get to that part of Australia while we were there.

  9. Now I'm sorry we didn't go to Kangaroo Island on our trip to Australia! We spotted kangaroos, wallabies and koalas in other places, but none of the rest.

  10. This is one place we will definitely visit when we travel around Australia. We won't have our dog with us when we go (like Kathy Marris did), so we won't have that problem :)

  11. This is one place we will definitely visit when we travel around Australia. We won't have our dog with us when we go (like Kathy Marris did), so we won't have that problem :)

  12. Oh wow, I would love to visit this place. I love to see any kind of wildlife. The kangaroos and koalas are so cool. Wonderful post and photos. Have a happy new week!

  13. This is cool and not so,etching I've read about elsewhere. Worth keeping in mind!

  14. I think one of the things that attracts me more about Australia is the wildlife. It would be great to visit this island and go wildlife spotting for a couple of days. It has almost all the species I am eager to see.

  15. I adore penguins and kangaroos, so Kangaroo Island would be right up my alley. I remember seeing a penguin wash up on the shores of Buzios, Brazil. It looked injured, and I believe a local called animal rescue. They're such adorable creatures.

  16. The wildlife alone is enough to make me want to visit Australia! Kangaroos and koalas would be at the top of my list to see!

  17. Michele, I love going wildlife spotting of any kind! I haven't been to Kangaroo Island, saving it for the big return to the Land Down Under. Love your pics!


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